Erik Zvanitajs Robbing the weed

Dedicated to all those who want more. The year was 1997, and this I remember because it had been the first time I had filed taxes. Ever. The course we set upon was born out of necessity, and like all great schemes, seemed like a good idea at the time. The setting for the drama was the West Coast of Canada; a little city named Vancouver, which is tucked into the shadow of Grouse Mountain.

There are two things I can tell you about Vancouver. It rains a lot, and there are a lot of people growing pot in their basements. (Hell, in their kitchens, bedrooms, closets, and gardens for that matter.) These so-called “Grow-houses” were on every street, and existed in every local from the urban sprawl of Surrey to the Posh addresses in North Van. 

The reason it rains a lot is due to a phenomenon known as “Orographic Precipitation”; which manifests when saturated clouds are forced to rise and subsequently dump all the moisture before they can pass over the obstacle impeding their pathway. In Vancouver, huge cloud masses come in off the Pacific, laden with moisture they have accumulated and as they rise to pass over the rocky mountain range they must first lighten their load.

Vancouver just happens to be on the wrong side of the mountains.

The reason so many people are growing weed is not quite so simple, and is not nearly as one-dimensional.

There are many factors contributing to the merits of cultivation, the first and foremost being the “Slap-on-the-wrist” drug laws that exist in British Columbia. This coupled with the West Coast mentality which seems to embrace weed and weed sub-culture ensure that the greens are abundant and of superior quality.

Now I don’t know if you have ever seen a fully functional operation, but it is very impressive.

The first thing you need is a room, the size dependant upon how much weed you want to grow. No windows is best, and for that reason most growers prefer the solace of the basement.

You then wrap the room with a solar tent, a kind of lightweight tinfoil, which reflect the ultra-violet rays from the hydroponic lights back upon your plants. This tent also aids in climate control, as it must be large enough to fully encompass your entire set-up. You get yourself a staple gun and start on one wall, and go all the way around until you form a perfect enclosure, kind of like wrapping a giant Christmas gift. Let the ends overlap, and the seam becomes a crude entrance, but undisturbed it will contain the precious heat and humidity needed to cultivate marijuana.

Ok, now you need power

This gets a little tricky, because if you plug all your lights and timers into wall sockets it should be about 2 weeks before the RCMP flags you for investigation. 

12 hours on, 12 hours off.

That much juice, on such a regimented schedule is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

The purpose of growing is to get paid, not to get pinched.

Here is the solution that some industrious growers came up with.

Tap the Hydro.

Get a crooked electrician to circumvent your meter and draw voltage directly from the main line. This makes it impossible to trace, as long as the wiring is done right. I wouldn’t recommend doing this yourself, as raw power is dangerous stuff.  Although it does not appeal to any of your senses, let me assure you that it is there, ready and waiting to ZAP your ass just as soon as you are in the wrong position. Leave that stuff to the experts.

Now I’ve heard stories about spectral analysis that is done with helicopters.  This allows them to actually see the weed through the roof of your house, due to the bandwidth of the hydroponics. 

But if you plant a few tomatoes and peppers in a more accessible area with a few lights and you got yourself a “get out of jail free card” as well as some fresh produce.

Ok, now you are ready to plant.

One plant per pot is best, line them up in rows under the ballast which supports the lights.  One light for every two plants is a good rule of thumb. If you want to get fancy, you can fully automate your operation by installing rubber hoses into the bottom of each pot, which feeds water and plant food on a regular interval.  This requires a pump or a lot of water in a reservoir to create enough pressure to move the water.  I do not recommend this however, as growing is a labor of love, and you should take the time to water each plant individually.  

Pull off any dead leaves, check the pH of the soil, you know, everything that your Mother would do for you.

Now I am not superstitious in any way shape or form, nor do I believe in extra-terrestrials or the zodiac, but I do believe that some people are simply not cut out to be growers.

Some cosmic forces conspire to allow you to cultivate plants, and either you have it or you don’t.  I have seen guys follow every step, every rule and suggestion, and they are lucky if they hatch a single seedling. 

There are those that are blessed with the “green thumb” and this has absolutely no relation to “black lung”.  A green thumb guarantees success, and it doesn’t matter how many issues of High Times you have read or how much bud you can smoke, without the mojo, you’ll be lucky to get a joint’s worth out of your crop.

A few fans to circulate the air are a good idea, keeping a nice breeze at all times.  When the lights go off, so should the fans, probably best to keep them on the same timers. 

Also, a radio or CD player is a good idea, it is my experience that the weed likes music, especially Bob Marley.

There is nothing more tranquil than seeing those ladies dancing with the breeze, their thick supple stalks wearing a coat of emerald green sun-leaf, swaying to Trenchtown Rock.

Ok. So you are ready to go right?

Wrong.

What did we forget?  Probably the most important element to ensure a successful grow house.

Proper Ventilation.

So many times growers have messed up in this department and sealed their fate right quick. I once heard a story about some rube that had ten plants on the go, and when they started budding the smell consumed the entire block.  A K-9 unit pointed a paw in their direction and that was the end of that saga.

A dryer port will do, but you must use at least 3 filters to ensure the sweet, unmistakable aroma of Mary Jane doesn’t betray all your hard work.

If all goes well, in 6 to 8 weeks you should have a nice harvest, each plant produces about 1 oz. of the green gold.

Growing is hard work. It is painstaking and arduous, and must at all times be kept a secret. The less people that know about your “hobby” the better.  Its exponential, for every one person you tell or show, count on 15 people getting the scoop.

And this is where I come in.

Oh sure, you can devote your time and resources to the project, maintaining the perfect equilibrium of moisture and heat, pruning and preening until the harvest.

Or you can do what I do, simply rob the grower of their stash after they have clipped.

The clipping takes about a day for every 10 plants (assuming there are two of you working with pinking shears).  After which you will need a least five days to dry out the buds, if you pack it while its still damp it will mold and ruin everything you’ve worked so hard for. 

Can’t have that can we?

How am I going to sell moldy weed?

The Perfect Crime

The first thing you must be aware of is “WHOM” the weed belongs to.  The last thing you want to do is take down some patsy’s grow-house only to find out he was fronting for The Hell’s Angels. 

Bad idea.

Kind of like having sex in Haiti without a condom. 

The best candidate’s are solo growers with big mouths. 

These guys practically rub your face in their success, and when you rob them it has a low guilt factor. It’s as if they had it coming, and they deserve to be pillaged.

In my case, the perfect candidate was a scrawny braggart named Len Kimball, who never shut-up about how much money he was making.  He had this countenance set upon his brow that was 50% “I’m better than you” and 50% “What smells like shit?”

He had squinty eyes, a weak chin, and a sweaty handshake.

He grew the weed in Port Moody, and paid some adventurous high-school kids 5K to hike it into the US, over the BC/Washington border.  Not a bad deal for a few nights camping, but Len was selling at $450 US an oz, and the hikers had 20 oz’s each in their rucksacks.

For those without Math, that’s 18 large, US cash-money, which is closer to 25K here in Canada, deposited right into a mattress.

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

The beautiful thing is Len never gets his hands dirty, he sits upon his leather sofa playing Tony Hawk on PlayStation while all the risk is happening about 200 km away.

After his third harvest, about the time Len was pricing Jet-Skis for the summer which was upon us, my good friend and cohort, Steve from Calgary, planted a seed in our brains. 

“Why don’t we rob Len’s weed?”

The room fell silent, kind of like when someone passes gas at a black-tie dinner, without the embarrassment however. 

I had just taken a job with Chrysler; flogging used cars like a nomadic gypsy, and was 5 weeks away from getting a courtesy car. 

I walked to work everyday, on a glass of water and a vitamin pill (actually Cod-liver oil in a gel cap).

I had exactly $5 a day for food, which I earned every morning by squeezing a box of limes at a local Falafel pit.  That was they deal, 1 box of limes juiced, would get you breakfast (consisting of 1 egg on a pita) and $5.

I was destitute, and payday was two weeks away, and rent due in five days.

Like an open forum in a board meeting I seconded the motion that was raised, and quickly another degenerate who was with us, Bronze Godfrey (I swear to God that was his name, Bronze), seconded my second.

Motion passed, carried, and entered into the annals of the minutes of the meeting by Steve from Calgary’s woman Grey Bird, a squaw from the interior near Squamish. 

It was official. We would rob Len’s weed.

Like the woman who is ovulating and trying to conceive, timing is everything.

We would have to bide our time, but still be cautious of Len’s schedule to snap up the crop.

As luck would have it, our luck, not Len’s, he and Steve from Calgary both fancied themselves musicians.  This led to countless hours of strumming and caterwauling and smoking many joints.  They had the sort of bond that can only be shared by jamming into the wee hours of the morning after destroying a flat of beer.

In Vancouver they call a two-four a flat, I didn’t make that up. 

Also while we are on the subject of beer in Vancouver they have this strange concept called “off-sales”. It works like this, you are in the bar, last call at 12:45, you can then go to the counter by the service bar and buy beers to go. I have never seen this before or since so it seems noteworthy.

Steve from Calgary was gently probing Len for details about the weed, “How was it going?” “What was the expected yield?” and of course the key piece of info, ‘WHEN would it be ready?”

Steve from Calgary played Len like a two-string guitar and got him to sing like a canary.

It took about three days to get all the pieces of the puzzle. 

We processed the details and constructed a basic P.O.A. (Plan of Action).  It is best to keep it simple, because that way when things go awry and they will, there is room for improvisation.

Phase 1

 

We invited Len over for a double-header of Hockey night in Canada, a time-honored tradition in those parts, and ensured that he had more than his share of brews. 

With each opaque bottle of Kokanee that was imbibed Len grew more and more belligerent and finally succumbed to the Sandman who was working for us this day.

Don’t forget that it’s three hours earlier on the West Coast, so hockey starts at like three in the afternoon. 

By 16:30 (its always best to stick to military time when planning a heist) Len was Comatose on the sofa, sawing logs like a narcoleptic on sleeping pills. 

After all, he was among friends.

As soon as he was out, I grabbed his ring of keys and went over to Canadian tire. I remember I had to be quick as they closed at 17:00 on Saturday.

I wasn’t sure which key was for what, so I had the kid at the hardware counter cut all four.  I ruled out the keys that were obviously for his truck, my few weeks at Chrysler allowed me to detect these immediately.

I returned in under half an hour, and found Len still flat on his back dreaming of all his ill-gotten fortune. I gently placed the keys back on the coffee table, which was actually more like a Beer-table, and winked at Steve from Calgary and Bronze Godfrey.

Phase I was complete.  Flawless; it feels good when everything comes off without a hitch.  I was reveling in the execution of our P.O.A. thinking that this was like taking candy from a baby.

I thought that this would be the easiest score in the history of takedowns.

How wrong I would be by the end of the whole thing I had no way of knowing.

Everything was moving along nicely, and we got an added bonus to morale when we discovered that Len asked Steve from Calgary to aid in the harvesting process.  A man on the inside was just the thing to ensure an efficient end to our elaborate scheme.

Like the old adage warns, “When something seems too good to be true….”

But we were blinded by our anticipation of getting our greedy mitts on all that weed, just waiting for us, not even knowing we were coming for it. 

Or did it?

The two days it took to prune the bud was the pinnacle of the P.O.A.   Not only did it mean that we were a few days from Phase II, but it also came with an added bonus of some potent finger hash that Steve from Calgary rolled up from all the sticky resin that remained on his fingers after a day of clipping.

It was a Monday when they finished, and Steve from Calgary learned that Len intended to let it dry for four days, and then on the weekend he would dispatch his couriers with the bounty. 

It was decided that Steve from Calgary would not be a point man for the operation, it would be too suspicious.  In fact, we opted to have him in a movie theatre with Len when the deed would be done.

Nice, neat, no chance of any fingers pointed in his direction, he was just too close to the situation.

Wednesday night was our window, and we planned on going in to Len’s domicile between the hours of 19:00 and 20:00 when Len and Steve from Calgary would be sitting in a dark movie house watching a half price screening of Sling Blade, many miles away.

Bronze Godfrey arranged transportation, a fellow by the name of Leonard Podgurney was to be the wheel-man, kind of a dimwit, but he had a Mustang 5.0 and if need be it had the balls to put distance between us and any serious conflict that could arise.

Phase II

Bronze Godfrey and I were to enter Len’s house from the back entrance with the keys I cut.  On the way out we would break a window to make it look like a typical break in.  We opted to break the window on the way out so as to keep the noise to a minimum, and avoid any peering by nosey neighbors.

We drove past the house; it was dark, on the very end of a dead end one-way street, not even touched by the halogen of the lampposts. 

On the second pass, Bronze Godfrey and I jumped out.

I had a duffel bag with 5 large green garbage bags, a few tools, a flashlight, and of course my lucky rabbit’s foot.

I know I said I wasn’t superstitious, but if this was going to work I needed every edge I could get.  It was more like a “just in case” rabbit’s foot, it was acquired at a granola market in Stanley park.

It had cost me 1 dollar, seemed like a small price to pay for the luck it was promised to bring.

Ok, so we go around the back of the house, me leading the way as I had the keys.  Our senses were keen, like Gazelle braving a drink from the river that was infested with crocodiles. We were watching every possible vantage point that someone could see us from, heads swiveling left to right like defensive backs in a back pedal scanning an area for incoming receivers.

Leonard Podgurney drove around the block, and I could hear the low growl of the 5.0 for some distance.

I climbed the stairs to the back door and pulled out my flashlight to see the lock.

1 deadbolt, 1 knob. 

The first key I tried slid easily into the heavy lock and the tumblers settled around the copied key. The bolt slid with a simple turn.

Half-way in. 

I struck out on the second key, then the third, and just as I felt apprehension mounting the fourth key fit perfectly and allowed us access to the house.

We entered into the kitchen, and closed the door behind us; he had left all the lights on inside, so it was easy to find our way to the basement door.  I suppose he figured that the lights would deter any local bandits.

Then everything went to shit.

I had the unused keys ready to go, had to be one of the two right? 

I felt my heart sink as I saw the thick steel circular monument attached to the door above the makeshift knob which was only a string through a small drill hole.

There engraved into the steel casing I saw the word that was to be my nemesis.

Medco©

 

This may seem like a shameless plug, but the Zman does not endorse Medco or any other third party interests unless they pay him a shitload of money.

In the land where I was conceived and cultured, Canada (eh?), Medco has a monopoly over high security locks, and believe me when I say,

‘This thing will take a bullet”.

I don’t even bother to look, because I have seen Medco keys, and I know that I do not posses one.  My two flimsy aluminum keys bare no match for the quarter inch Allen key that IS a Medco key.  I say to Bronze Godfrey,

“Ok. We do it the hard way.  But first…”

Time for the daily ritual, I twist one up and Bronze Godfrey and I burn one down.

Nice and red now.

I pull out a hammer and a pry bar from the depths of my duffel bag and survey the situation.

“Z. Try the keys.” Bronze Godfrey sounds tense.

“You see for yourself…” I say, waiting anxiously while he tries both puny matchsticks and cannot even get through the first tumbler without jamming and bending.  Hey finally breaks one off in the lock, trying to force it in a little too hard,

“Oh Shit Z! What are we gonna do now.”

“Stand back.” I say.

The door is solid. A stoic reminder of how they used to make things.

Oak.

Serious tree, with a deadbolt that maybe hydraulic bolt cutters could sever.

No chance of it coming off on the left side, so I check the length on the right side.

Oh Len.

You stupid fuck.

You mounted the door backwards, so that it opens outward.

With both hinges neatly exposed I carefully tap out the lynchpins that are holding the door onto the hinges. 

This is taking too much time.

A couple of good bites with the crowbar and I pry the monolith open a quarter way, ample room to slip in and out.

Right away I smell the weed.

When I was 24 I visited the ancient city of Cairo.

Where Pharaoh first fought.

I walked into the tomb of King Tut in the Great Pyramid at Ghiza, and could still smell musty remains of some forgotten spices and camphor.  Possibly some mix of deadly poison meant to dispel any would be tomb robbers.

That’s like the weed. 

You smell that, and you know there’s a friend near by. 

By the way, the pyramids are lit with a series of mirrors, so you have to visit the catacombs before sundown.

It’s dark and cold in the basement, did I mention it’s February?

February 14, 1997.

Won’t you be mine?

I pull out my flashlight and try to see the steps; quite frankly I am not a big fan of basements, and am kind of creeped out.  All I need now is a nice big rat. That would just about make my day.

I see some switches on the wall, I think they might be for the Hydroponics, but at this point I don’t even care. 

The original P.O.A. called for an insertion time of no more than 6 minutes.

In and out.

At this point we were at least 10 minutes in, and hadn’t even secured the objective.

To calm myself I sing the refrain from The Stones’ “Time is on my side…Yes it is.”

Flash. BAM. BOOM!

White-hot light hit the room.

The room is illuminated by a couple of large hydro lamps on a six-foot pole, casting light on everything.

I have heard of people who have endured an out of body experience, and I truly believe that I left my physical reality and stood right in front of myself, just so I could see that stupid look on my face as I saw what was in the basement.

Nothing.

Some dried up sunleaf, an orange garbage bag full of stems and fertilizer containers, and some half eaten Pizzas that looked suspiciously like the work of Steve from Calgary.

But that was it.

Oh it was here.  The nose knows.  But it’s gone now.

Bronze Godfrey says nothing.  He looks baffled. He checks the garbage bag, as if it’s an elaborate ruse to trick him. As if all the weed could possibly be behind the bag. He lifts it and tosses it in the corner,

“There’s nothing here. It’s not here. He must have moved it…”

“You think?” I say through my teeth.

“Let’s get outta here,” I say. 

There was no point in hanging out; it wasn’t going to manifest itself through our disappointment.

So we lumbered up the stairs like two balloons that have been deflated, crawled through the door, reset it upon the hinges, and went out the way we came in.

As I closed the door, I put my elbow through the window in the door.  Bronze Godfrey asked me,

“We didn’t take anything. You could have just locked up…”

“Fuck him” I said.

We saw Leonard Podgurney parked right in front of the house, could hear the radio blaring, and could see him clearly under the interior light, thumbing through a Hustler magazine.

“We gotta get rid of this guy.” I say.

“No, he’s got a pool.”  Bronze Godfrey says.

“Really?” I say. “Diving Board?”

“And a slide.” He says.

We get in the car and drive off.

Leonard is playing AC/DC “Highway to Hell” on the tapedeck. He shouts to be heard,

“Where’s the Weed?”

We made it back to our squat which was in East Van, bordered by the notorious Hastings St. and Commercial drive.  Steve from Calgary was already home as it was almost 22:00.  We had made a stop at Didd’s Pizza to drown our sorrows in a couple of righteous slices.

I could tell by the look on his face that he had already learned the outcome of our failed mission.

“He took it all to the Island to dry.”  Steve from Calgary said.

“I tried to call you guys, but you had already left.”

Oh yes, Vancouver Island, for the newly wed and the newly dead.

A retirement-cum Earth Monger haven, where a lot of paranoid growers would transport their crops for the purpose of drying.

I knew that somewhere in Victoria there was a garage with all those pounds of weed just hanging out, gently drying in the salty breeze.

“But look…” Steve from Calgary said.

“When Len went to get popcorn I pinched $20 out of his wallet!”

Ah Steve, all class.

Leonard Podgurney piped in,

“You guys promised me twenty dollars for gas!”

Steve from Calgary’s face looked like he had just been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his nut-sack as he very warily forked over the twenty.

We all puffed on a joint that Bronze Godfrey produced from a tiny pocket on the inside of his coat.

‘Is it Saturday?” I asked.

“No” said Bronze Godfrey as he expunged a thick cloud of smoke.

“Wednesday.”

“Cool.” I said. “The food-bank opens tomorrow at nine.”

The food bank.

This led to another hour of scheming, as those that were wily could get a month worth of supplies from the local food bank.

Steve from Calgary led the brainstorming.

‘Ok, check this out, you know those rotten potatoes in the compost? I will smuggle one in and add it to my bundle after they give it to me. Then, on the way out I will pull out the potato and make such a fuss that they’ll gimme a flat of Kraft Dinner just to shut me up!”

“Great idea!” Bronze Godfrey said.

“If you take a bite we could get even more!”

I closed my eyes and listened to the television static which was interrupted every now and then by Beverly Hills 90210.

As I drifted off I heard Bronze Godfrey, ‘When I get up to the counter I will pretend to slip, and make like I cracked my head!  Hey Z, before we go tomorrow you have to hit me with the butt end of a hockey stick...”

I dreamt of the weed we never got, and the food we were gonna get.

 

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